Analysis: UK newspapers are talking more about climate change and flooding
- 17 Feb 2014, 17:00
- Mat Hope
Last week, we published a
blog showing that only a small fraction - around seven per cent
- of newspaper articles about flooding over the past two months had
mentioned climate change.
Over the past week, as climate change has become a
more prominent part of the story, that percentage has doubled - to
about 15 per cent.
The past week has seen commentators respond to a
Met Office report looking at the impacts of climate change, the
energy secretary criticising his coalition colleagues for having
their heads in the sand on climate change, and Ed Miliband calling
for politicians to unite in the name of climate action - all
against the backdrop of continued flooding.
There was a notable increase in the number of
flooding stories that mentioned climate change over the past seven
days. When we did the analysis
this time last week, we found 3,064 articles
mentioning flooding over the previous two months, with 206
mentioning climate change. But last week alone, there were 897
articles about the floods, with 138 - or just over 15 per cent -
mentioning climate change.
Flooding articles which mention climate change,
based on data from Factiva.
Discussion of both flooding and climate change
has grown significantly in the last week. A large proportion -
about a fifth - of all the articles printed on flooding since the
start of December were printed in the last seven days. Likewise,
about 40 per cent of articles that mention flooding and climate
change over the same period were printed last week.
That suggests that when the flooding story was
at its peak, so has been newspapers' discussion of the role of
Extreme weather events seem to be a trigger for
discussion of climate change.
We searched for articles that mentioned "climate
change" at all over the last three months - as far back as our
database will allow us track. The results show a spike in
mid-November when Typhoon Haiyan hit, before tailing off slightly
until the storms and floods started to become a big story towards
Articles mentioning "climate change" over the
last three months. Each grid line marks the number of articles
published during that week.
(It's important to note that we can't measure
how big the spike was for coverage of Typhoon Haiyan because the
record only goes back three months, so we can't compare the
specific numbers. It just looks like there could be a
As well as increasing in volume, articles
mentioning climate change have definitely become more prominent
over the past week.
Stories linking flooding and climate change
appeared on the front pages of the Guardian and its Sunday sister
paper, the Observer:
They also appeared on the covers of two current
affairs magazines, The Spectator and New Statesman, which took very
different angles on the story:
Climate change also broke out of the environment
pages, with articles from news reporters and political commentators
- perhaps not surprising, given that there was plenty of commentary
from prominent politicians.
On Tuesday, former environment secretary
Caroline Spelman said the floods should serve as a
"sharp reminder" of the impacts of climate
Her comments were followed by a speech by the
current energy and climate change secretary, Ed Davey, on Thursday.
Speaking at thinktank IPPR, Davey accused
some Conservative and UKIP politicians of adopting a
"wilfully ignorant, head in the sand, nimby-ist conservatism" in
their attitudes towards climate change. He said the current extreme
weather highlights the risks that come with government
failing to address climate
Finally, Ed Miliband hit the papers this weekend
for saying climate change had become a
"national security" issue. He argued that
the current floods showed climate change was
no longer just an international issue which
carried the threat of global conflict, but a domestic issue
affecting millions of British people.
Speaking to the Observer, Miliband called for a
return to the political consensus on climate change action that
David Cameron had promised in his 2010 election campaign, when the
Conservative party leader pledged to lead the "greenest government
A Sunday Telegraph
editorial criticised Miliband's comments for
being politically self serving while residents struggled to keep
the flood waters at bay. The public want practical solutions that
can be implemented immediately to stop the flood waters, not
Miliband's expensive, long term, decarbonisation policies, it
Our analysis suggests that while the link
between flooding and climate change was more prominently discussed
over the past seven days, it was often in response to political
events rather than as isolated scientific coverage - much the same
as in previous weeks.
The media narrative on flooding and climate
change has evolved over the past week. Not only was climate change
discussed more often, it also achieved greater prominence in the
The greater focus on climate change was still
largely driven by politics, however. While climate science has
become a more significant part of the story, it is still secondary
to debates over the political value of adopting policies to address
Whether newspapers continue to discuss climate
change once politicians' attention is diverted elsewhere remains to
We originally searched the news database Factiva
for the terms "flood" and "flooding" in newspaper articles between
1st December 2013 and 10th February 2014. We also conducted a
boolean search for the terms "floods AND climate change" for the
same period. We have now added a search for the 11th to 17th of
February to this analysis.
The newspapers included in the search were The
Times, Sunday Times, Guardian, Observer, Independent, Independent
on Sunday, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Daily Telegraph, Sunday
Telegraph, Sun, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Express, and the